Microsoft packages a bunch of its apps and Azure services as 'Game Stack'

Microsoft is making a big play to get game developers to use Azure, Power BI, machine learning Visual Studio and game-specific apps and services like PlayFab, to build their next products.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

As Microsoft continues its march toward delivering an Azure-powered streaming game service, the company simultaneously is targeting more third-party game developers with its apps and services. On March 14, Microsoft took the wraps off its "Microsoft Game Stack" -- a collection of cloud services like Azure, Power BI, PlayFab, Mixer and Xbox Live, plus various development tools -- which it will be marketing to game devs.

Microsoft officials have been saying for months that Project xCloud will allow users to stream the games they want on the devices they want with acceptable levels of latency. The first Azure server rack supporting Project xCloud already is installed in Microsoft's Quincy, Wash.-based Azure datacenter, officials said earlier this year. Microsoft execs said they've already increased datacenter bandwith and are working on new ways of video coding and decoding for the coming service. Earlier this week, Microsoft publicly demonstrated xCloud during an Xbox Inside event. Public tests of the xCloud service are slated for later this year.

Microsoft is touting Azure as the way that third-party game developers also could take advantage of its compute, storage, machine-learning, AI and mixed reality services. Today, March 14, Microsoft announced that it's ready to start selling PlayFab services as part of its Azure/Game Stack. Microsoft bought PlayFab, a tool vendor for cloud-connected games, in January last year.

The five new PlayFab services that are rolling out in preview are PlayFab Matchmaking; PlayFab Party voice and chat services; PlayFab Game Insights, which uses Azure Data Explorer; PlayFab Pub Sub, which uses Azure SIgnalR; and PlayFab User Generated Content (which originally was built to support the Minecraft Marketplace). Microsoft also is integrating PLayFab with other Game Stack components like App Center to provide crash-log data, and via a new plug-in for Visual Studio Code, Microsoft's light-weight development product. 

For those wondering, PlayFab also will continue to work on AWS and Google Cloud, Microsoft officials reiterated. Even though Microsoft will be encouraging game developers to use Azure services, developers who use one or more Microsoft Game Stack services are not bound to use only Microsoft services or the Azure cloud, officials said.

Microsoft also is making available a new software development kit that will bring the Xbox Live identity and other services, such as achievements and stats,  to iOS and Android devices. While Xbox Live itself does not run on Azure, many of the newer, gaming-related services that are part of Xbox gaming do run on Azure.

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